17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, I King 3:5.7-12, Romans 8:28-30, Matthew 13:44-52
1. My sisters and brothers, it is my humble privilege this weekend to preach my final sermon in this church. As you know, the archbishop has transferred me to St Anne’s Church from August 1st. And I have been searching my mental and spiritual storeroom, to give you my best today.
2. Because my time is running out here, I want to give you what is most precious, most important, before I leave.
And this must be how Jesus felt in the last days of the three years He spent with his disciples. By the way, that’s about the same period of time I spent in Christ the King Church! For Jesus, the pressure of time must have prompted Him to look into His own storeroom of gems so as to preach the most urgent messages in the last part of His short public ministry.
2. So last week, I asked myself what is the most urgent message that I wish to share with you. The most urgent message is usually the most important. What should I share that will hopefully make a life-changing and lasting impact on us? The answer came in today’s Gospel.
3. In this reading from St Matthew, Jesus is so pre-occupied with telling his listeners about the kingdom. He gives three examples of what heaven is like. I had wondered why Jesus was so long-winded, so CHEONG HAY about describing the kingdom. And then upon further reflection, I realised why.
4. A car salesman must surely be pre-occupied with telling people how good his car is. Similarly, a mother must surely be pre-occupied with caring for her child. Just as Christiano Ronaldo is not Christiano Ronaldo if he is not pre-occupied with scoring goals, Mariah Carey is not Mariah Carey if she is not pre-occupied with singing.
5. So Jesus is naturally pre-occupied with what He is sent to do. He keeps telling people about the goal of life (pause) the Kingdom!
6. My sisters and brothers, what are you and I living for? I mean, we may live for 60, 70, 80 years and we go through joys and pains, happiness and sickness, dreams and sacrifices… all the ups and downs for what? What is there for us at the end of all these?
7. If there is nothing at the end of all these, then all the pains and sacrifices we endured are in vain. And all the joys and riches we gained are also in vain because they’ll be are gone when we die.
8. If there is nothing for us at the end of all these, then our entire life is in vain. Life has no meaning!
9. But precisely, because of Jesus, our life is not meaningless. Our life is not in vain!
10. And so Jesus comes up with three human examples to describe what is actually, truly, waiting for us at the end of our life here on earth. He knows that our limited minds cannot fully appreciate the immense beauty and wonder of our heavenly home, so Jesus uses human terms to fire our imagination.
11. And now, it is left to us to look carefully at what He is trying to tell us by these 3 examples about the Kingdom.
12. For this to have a meaningful effect, I need your co-operation. You will need to do your part in this little exercise or you will not be able to get the full effect of these examples.
13. I am going to give you 20 seconds to think about what is it in this world that would give you the greatest happiness. It can be any kind of material possession, any thing or person or lifestyle or state of life. It is the number 1 item in your wish-list. What is it that will give you the greatest happiness in this world. Okay, please, I urge you to think about it now.
14. Kindly co-operate so that you can get the full meaning of the examples cited by Jesus. You have 20 seconds starting now. (pause for 20 seconds)
15. I will now read again, the three examples in the Gospel.
‘The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off in his joy, sells everything he owns and buys the field. ‘Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; when he finds one of great value he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it. ‘Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet that is cast in the sea and brings in a haul of all kinds of fish. When it is full, the fishermen bring it ashore; then, sitting down, they collect the good ones in baskets and throw away those that are no use.
16. In the first two examples, Jesus tells us that the two persons who found their treasure were so willing to give up everything for the sake of what they had found. The manner which they so easily and happily gave up everything indicate that they had found something far, far, more valuable and much, much better than their current possessions.
17. Now focus on what you identified as the thing that would give you the greatest happiness in this life. Go on, recall what it was. (pause)
18. Today, Jesus is telling you and me that if we really, really know what awaits us at the end of our life, we will easily and happily give up this material possession that is on the top of our wish-list – and everything in our wish-list.
19. Imagine, you will be gaining something that is far better than anything you can ever want! In fact, we can never fully imagine such a state, because our human mind is limited.
20. In the third example of the fishing net, Jesus gives us two important messages. The first point, is about the great love of God. By His immense generosity, God offers the Kingdom to everyone. The second important point is about free choice. Although the Kingdom is offered to everyone, it is really up to us to make it happen. He does not force it upon anyone.
21. If we choose to walk in His ways, we’ll get there. If we choose the world, we’ll be like the bad fish that are thrown out.
22. Yes, we recognise that the world is very strong. But by His resurrection, Jesus Christ has defeated the world. With the grace of God, you can swim against the current, swim against the conventional tide.
23. However, it’s easier said than done. Can we really do that, when almost everyone is going the other way? My sisters and brothers, you have been like a family to me here in Singapore for the past three years. As a token of my gratitude, I wish to leave with you these thoughts on how you can rise above yourselves and defeat the world, too. That would be my dearest gift to you. Just three simple steps.
24. Firstly, develop a good prayer life. We need to be in touch with God. If you’re currently praying 5 minutes a day, make time and progress to 10 minutes, and then 15 minutes, and so on. You will come to a point where you will just simply delight in prayer. You will be surprised. God cannot be outdone in generosity. Every time we think we are doing God a favour, it is the other way around, actually.
25. Next, come and be nourished regularly by the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation. Not just Holy Communion, but confession, too. The sacraments of the Church are truly powerful, and are filled with the grace of God for us to receive protection and growth. Something tangible, something really happens when you receive the sacraments properly.
26. And lastly, when you have a good prayer life and receive the sacraments regularly and properly, the third step will naturally follow. And that is: delighting in the Word of God. Believe me, my sisters and brothers, the Bible is the roadmap in our journey of life. Without it, you will keep getting lost, keep falling into ditches. And some falls are really very difficult to recover from.
27. So these are the three steps to help you get to the Kingdom: prayer, sacraments and the Word. If you do these faithfully, you will truly understand how that person in St Matthew’s gospel was so willing to sell everything in exchange for the pearl.
28. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow priests, Fr Peter Koh and Fr Stephen Yim, and all of you my sisters and brothers of this parish who have helped to shape me and journeyed together with me in the past three years and five months as assistant parish priest here at Christ the King Church. I will keep you all in my prayers. Please pray for me, too. Thank you very much – and may the peace of God be with you always.